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Adventure Blog

Lions and Tigers and Bears! ...in Africa?

10/14/2013 - 10:31

The Lion of Africa
The ubiquitous icon of African wildlife, the lion
(panthera leo) once ranged far beyond the continent into Europe, across the Middle East and into Asia. Its range today is confined almost entirely to subsaharan Africa, and sadly, their numbers continue to decline.  

Lions can still be found today in small populations across West and Central Africa, however it is in East and Southern Africa where lions can be found in their largest concentrations and continue to be a major draw to the iconic game parks nature reserves.  Part or the 'Big 5', lions are majestic creatures with a complex and highly developed social structure. 

The creation of national wildlife parks and conservation areas across East and Southern Africa have helped slow their decline, but lions remain a vulnerable species. Visitors play a vital role in the conservation efforts to preserve these magnificent creatures. Revenue from game park entrance fees contribute heavily to ongoing conservation efforts to maintain healthy and viable populations.  

Tigers in Africa?
Well, yes.   Deep in the heart of South Africa, almost at its geographic center, lies the Laohu Valley, along the Orange River.  The 33,000 hectare (82,000 acre) Laohu Valley Reserve is home to an innovative effort to preserve a wild population of the South China Tiger (panthera tigris amoynensis).  Why South Africa?  A good question with an even better answer.  According to the Wild Foundation, one of the goals of creating a breeding program so far from the animal's native home range is to create a geographically isolated gene pool to protect against potential threats of disease.  It is the same strategy used to preserve the white rhino. 

Save China's Tigers is an organization started by Li Quan, a former fashion industry executive, dismayed at the thought of China's cultural symbol being on the brink of extinction, purchased a number of overgrazed former sheep farms and converted them into a conservation center to breed south china tigers for the eventual reintroduction into reserves in southern China being built in cooperation with the Chinese government.  While highly controversial, the program is showing some signs of success, with 11 tigers born into the wild population introduced in Laohu Valley Reserve.

Bears in Africa?
Yes, and no.  The Atlas Bear (ursos arctos crowtheri) was the only bear species native to the African continent to have survived to the modern era. With a range spanning Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, the Atlas bear may have been more widespread in prehistoric times, however the desertification of the Sahara confined it primarily to the Atlas Mountains which gave the species its name.  Widely depicted in Roman mosaics found across North Africa, the Atlas bear was a subspecies of the Brown bear, growing up to 9 ft and weighing up to 1,000 pounds.  In Roman times, they were often captured and used for the execution of criminals.  Sadly, the last known species was killed by hunters in the 1870s in Morocco's northern Rif Mountains.   

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